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UPDATE: Historic storm moves on, but problems remain

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 | 1:40 p.m. CST; updated 4:41 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ST. LOUIS — The monster winter storm lived up to the hype in Missouri. But even as residents began to dig out from up to 2 feet of snow, there was plenty to remain concerned about: treacherous roads, power outages, and a fresh blast of cold air coming into the state on the storm's tail end.

Residents of the Show-Me State were earning kudos Wednesday for their common sense, kindness, even heroism during the storm. Missouri State Highway Patrol officials said accidents were few largely because people stayed off the roads. Truckers said the few cars they saw were driving slowly and cautiously.

Many people went out of their way to aid stranded motorists, even to help emergency workers.

Near Tipton, in central Missouri, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative trucks couldn't get to an outage site because of nearly 2 feet of snow on the road. So farmers used their tractors to clear the road, then pulled the trucks to the outage sites.

"Most of those outages wouldn't have gotten back on Tuesday night without our members' help," said Chuck Tuttle, operations manager for Co-Mo.

At least three Missouri newspapers on Tuesday made their online editions available for free to all customers, saying weather conditions made it too dangerous to deliver print editions. The Joplin Globe, The Carthage Press and The Sedalia Democrat posted notes on their websites to print edition readers explaining the change.

The storm that began late Monday dumped 25 inches of snow on the north-central Missouri town of Brunswick. Brookfield got 23 inches, Hannibal 20. Columbia, Jefferson City and Joplin got 18 inches of snow each. The National Weather Service said the totals were records in some areas.

In fact, the storm was, if not unprecedented, extraordinarily rare, National Weather Service meteorologist Thomas Spriggs said.

"A storm that produces a swath of 20-inch snow is really something we'd see once every 50 years — maybe," Spriggs said.

The Missouri Department of Transportation reopened Interstate 70 shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday. Snow and wind created a whiteout Tuesday that made visibility almost zero, and the roadway was so slick that travel was next to impossible, officials said, prompting the decision to shut down the interstate for most of its 252 miles across the state.

"It's reopen, but we want people to understand I-70 is mostly covered with hard, packed snow," MoDOT spokesman Jorma Duran said.

A section of Interstate 44 from Springfield to the Oklahoma border also reopened Wednesday morning.

Other roads around the state remained snow-packed and unplowed as crews focused on the interstates and major highways. Duran said many highways remain buried in more than 2 feet of snow and drifts, and it may be days before they are passable.

Southwest, central and northeast Missouri were particularly hard hit. In Jefferson City, with the Legislature adjourned until next week, as many as 50 lawmakers unable to get home spent the night in the Capitol building. Some had families join them in the Capitol, where they watched movies and played games, said state Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston.

"It'll certainly be a night to remember," Brandom said.

Many businesses shut down across the state, including two of St. Louis' biggest grocery chains, Schnucks and Dierbergs. Both reopened Wednesday.

The Hy-Vee store in Jefferson City never closed despite the weather. Assistant manager Brian Schaefer said customers were few. The main items in demand? "Water, alcohol and cigarettes — that's really what we were ringing up last night," Schaefer said.

Kansas City got about 9 inches of snow, but few significant problems were reported.

On the other side of the state, St. Louis was on the outer edge of the storm. Areas an hour north of the city were buried under more than a foot of snow; areas an hour south got virtually nothing. The city itself officially had 3 inches of precipitation — most of it sleet.

The glaze of ice in eastern Missouri wasn't causing significant outages. Rural electric cooperatives reported a few hundred scattered outages, many of them in a section of southeast Missouri. AmerenUE reported fewer than 200 outages, though officials with the utility warned that with the arrival of bitter cold and with winds still whipping ice-coated lines, more outages were likely.

The extreme cold creates something else to worry about. Spriggs said most of the state will see lows of below zero Wednesday night, and maybe Thursday night, too. Parts of northern Missouri could dip to minus-10 degrees Wednesday night, with wind chills of around 25 below. High temperatures aren't expected to climb above freezing until the weekend.

"When it's that cold you can get frostbite in 15 to 30 minutes," Spriggs said.

Schools remained closed across the state, including many colleges and universities. In Columbia, about 10 MU students built an igloo painted with a blue musical note in homage to the St. Louis Blues and even put a flat-screen TV inside it.

They weren't watching the Blues — the hockey team was forced to postpone its Tuesday night game against Colorado due to the storm.


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